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CIO Unplugged – 12/15/07

December 15, 2007 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Taking Control of Your Destiny
By Ed Marx

The capstone of holiday seasons past has been the Plunge — leaping into the icy waters of Lake Erie, wearing nothing but swim trunks. Each New Year’s Day, we triathlon club members gingerly — if not insanely — worked our way across the snow and ice then charged into the lake. Once we reached waist-high water, we crowned our feat with a head first dive. Like an arctic baptism, the Plunge magically washed away the old and welcomed the new.

Another holiday tradition my family has practiced for many years is a strategic planning retreat. From the oldest to the youngest, we’d evaluate and polish our personal plans. I first learned about the power of planning while studying business in graduate school. Later, in my first few jobs, I observed how leadership teams carved out time yearly to develop and hone mission and vision statements, which included values and objectives. These teams jetted off to exotic locations offering sunshine and sand or posh mountain lodges. Liberated from work distractions, they rated their company’s performance against these plans and made adjustments for the following year.

Literature searches provided ample evidence that businesses with a solid planning process significantly outperformed their non-planning peers. I soon asked myself, “Could these planning principles be applied to my life? My marriage. My family?”

The Marx family’s strategic planning adventure started modestly. Short, inexpensive, trips away from home reduced distraction and stimulated creativity. These trips eventually morphed into more elaborate excursions, but the focus always remained on strategic planning.

Since beginning this process, we have experienced dramatic increases in the quality of our careers, relationships and life. Even as preteens, our children possessed a solid knowledge of who they were, where they were going and what they needed to accomplish in order to fulfill their calling. We signed our plans and lived by them.

I could share numerous examples, but I’ll share the one that had the most memorable impact. My son, age eight at the time, took a ruler and pointed to the values section of our “family strategic plan,” which hung prominently in our family room. “Dad”, he asked, “was that honoring mom when you yelled?” Seven months prior, while deciding which six values needed improvement that year, he contributed the word “honor.” He was now calling me on it.

We were living what Rick Warren calls “The Purpose Driven Life.” Decisions on how to spend our time, energy and resources were based on those planning retreats, which are documented and kept in binders. I could go back through 15 years of documentation and show you at least one significant event that happened each year in my career, marriage and family.

Could you?

I’m astonished at the number of organizations, divisions and individuals not guided by a written plan. What is the standard by which they measure success? What foundations and principles are ensuring their sound investments and decision-making? What is the vision that brings out their passion and gives them sense of purpose? Do they know the end game? Which values are serving as beacons to ensure integrity?

Earth-moving ideas existing only in a leader’s head are not enough. He/she must write them out. Teach them. Actualize them. Moreover, there is nothing worse than going through planning exercises merely to have the plan collect dust. He/she must create a living vision!

Plunging into end-of-year processes and preparations for the upcoming year, my encouragement to you is to spend thoughtful time planning. If you don’t have a strategic information systems plan, or one that is embedded in the overall business plan, then get out your calendar today. Block out time to work with your staff and key stakeholders and initiate this critical process. You cannot effectively lead your organization without one. The old must go so the new can thrive.

On the personal side, pack up your family, get out of town, and spend time in a setting where beauty can inspire you. Arctic baptism not required! Just a place free of distraction. Design a mission and vision together. Let the kids submit values by which all can live. Help them develop lifelong strategies and objectives, as opposed to New Year’s resolutions that have the shelf life of unrefrigerated eggs. Envision your gang. Commission them. Then watch them rock not only your world but also the world around them.


Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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