My Strategy is the Greatest. It's true.
Every leader has a great vision of where they’re headed. It’s a given that we understand strategy and have one for our business. And naturally our purpose or mission is crystal clear.
We ‘like’ articles about involving many, disrupting the market, focusing and empowering our team. Of course, there is ‘no right way’ and we must never accept ‘because that’s how we’ve always done it’.
Now, if I was to go and talk with your people would they be able to tell me your company or department’s purpose? Can they clearly articulate the vision and the areas you are focusing on to achieve this? If I questioned them a layer deeper on their role and those of others would they be able to coherently share this with me? Do they buy into and support all of the above? And most importantly, do they feel confident to make decisions within this framework?
If all of the above is true, then congratulations.
Unfortunately, researching with many companies over the years, this is rarely the case. And it’s a shame, because I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who doesn’t want to understand their organization’s purpose, vision and strategy.
We have a problem.
And I say we as I know I’ve done the same in the past. Leaders do have a view on strategy, mission, etc. and yet our people don’t always know it, understand it or buy into it. Why?
I recently worked with a team whose leaders built a strategy paper themselves and shared it with only one of their team. She wasn’t impressed, and yet didn’t feel able to critique it. When I uncovered a copy it was clearly not a strategy, but a collection of thoughts, built by well-meaning people with little knowledge.
If I asked 100 leaders to define strategy, I’d get 100 different answers. Strategy as a word has mystique. I’ve heard people use it to sound intelligent or important. There are many definitions but the most important thing is that the team is clear what they are creating when they are building one. I’m sure we’ve all had to complete strategy 1-pagers which the boss has put together and stimulate little thought other than ‘how quickly can I get this done’. Does this show knowledge of strategy and how to make it work?
It’s not about the definition though, it’s about the why? Why are we creating a strategy? Why is it important? Many times it seems to be a ‘check box’ exercise, or something to pass up the line. What real value does this add to the team?
I’ve seen strategy frameworks from big consultancies, and they are nothing if not thorough. And many organizations mirror this type of thinking with their own complex templates and processes. This can be valuable, however, we need to ask ourselves whether we want 100% perfect documentation to present, or something we can energize others behind.
Probably the most important challenge to creating a strategy is time. There are always urgent things to do, and inevitably these get in the way of making time to think ahead. And when time is made there is rarely a coherent process, so it becomes that ‘get it done’ exercise.
Finally, as a leader, many feel they should lead strategy development as it’s a complex process that requires the ‘most important person’ to drive it. Some even believe they’re the only one capable of developing a strategy that reflects their vision. We’re going to be pulled in many directions so must either set aside time or hand over responsibility to someone whose objective it is. Of course, handing it over can be scary as your vision may become diluted…
So how do we realize the obvious benefits of a shared vision and strategy?
I constantly talk with leaders about simplicity, and heads nod. However, I’m not sure the most important aspect of simplicity is properly understood.
Einstein – “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”
Pascal – “If I’d had more time I’d have written less”
Simplicity doesn’t mean easy, in fact it takes more effort. It demands clarity and understanding. When a message is well refined it resonates and can be used as a rallying cry that guides decisions – the purpose of a strategy after all.
Simplicity also doesn’t mean lack of thoroughness. As leaders we need to encourage our teams to focus on the outcome rather than the volume of work. In this time of faster change you still need to do the thinking (and the right amount of research and numbers work), however, the aim is not to prove you have (or CYA) but to reach conclusions that help clarity and focus. And that’s hard.
There is no right way to create a strategy. And there is no perfect strategy. However, a good strategy will help you and your team decide on your course of action as you work. If the team is engaged in the strategy – really engaged and listened to, then you will have a far greater chance of success. The more they understand it the more confident they’ll be to take decisions, and the more likely these will be successful.
As leaders, there are many demands on our time and we have to balance ‘doing’ with ‘thinking’ (anticipating, planning, leading). Too much ‘doing’ is no excuse. As you are traversing the rapids your team expects you to keep your head up, looking ahead so you don’t end up dropping off the waterfall. Why not enlist help from someone who can focus on facilitating a strategy you and your team can engage with?
Some see stubbornness as a quality. At the end of the day it could be seen as over-focus (focus generally being a good thing). However, the world changes daily and our strategies may need to adapt. It’s important to be open to the evolution of your plans – much easier if you have a clear purpose and vision at the start.
Do it appropriately. In a way that is right for you and fits your vision. If you believe in simplicity, focus and team then using lots of detailed templates or a massive consultancy will jar. Plan the process in a way that is clear and bought into. Have someone lead it (internal or external) in a way that engages stakeholders proactively so they find it a motivating experience rather than a chore. And as the leader you have to invest some time and be present to demonstrate the importance.
Many would like to be seen as expert strategists – it has a certain caché about it – but few really understand it deeply enough to explain simply. To be successful we must take the time to create a clear, compelling purpose, vision and strategy with our team. Not to cover our a##, but to cover your team in glory. It needn’t be complex and time consuming if you invest in clarity, simplicity and engagement. And done well, a clear vision and focused strategy will guide decisions that deliver growth now and going forward.