5 Critical Moments to Evaluate Your Strategy

businessman with hat in front of two roads

“To see things in a new way, we must rise above the fray.” -Rich Horwath

 

Not too long ago, I featured Rich Horwath, the author of Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking here to discuss the common mistakes of strategic planning.  Rich has helped thousands of managers with the strategic process.

After the interview, I decided to follow up with him to ask when leaders need to abandon or re-evaluate a strategic plan.  I have seen executives stick with a plan and others modify or abandon a plan.  Most leaders don’t want to open up the plan over and over because it shows indecisiveness, a lack of confidence or it creates confusion.  That said, there are times when a major review or rewrite is important.  So, I asked Rich:

When is revisiting the plan the right thing to do?

The ability to modify strategy at the right time can literally save or destroy a business. Here is a checklist of five moments when it is critical to evaluate your strategy.

 

1. Goals are achieved or changed.

 

Goals are what you are trying to achieve, and strategy is how you’re going to get there.

It makes sense then, if the destination changes, so too should the path to get there.  As you accomplish goals and establish new ones, changes in resource allocation are often required to keep moving forward.  In some cases, goals are modified during the course of the year to reflect changes in the market, competitive landscape, or customer profile. It’s important to reflect on the strategy as these changes occur to see if it also needs to be modified.

 

“Goals are what you are trying to achieve, and strategy is how you’re going to get there.” -Rich Horwath

 

2. Customer needs evolve.

 

The endgame of business strategy is to serve customers’ needs in a more profitable way than the competition.  But, as the makers of the Polaroid camera, hard- cover encyclopedias, and pagers will tell you, customer needs evolve.

The leaders skilled in strategic thinking are able to continually generate new insights into the emerging needs of key customers.  They can then shape their group’s current or future offerings to best meet those evolving needs.

 

“The endgame of business strategy is to serve customers’ needs in a more profitable way than the competition.” -Rich Horwath

 

3. Innovation changes the market.

 

Innovation can be described as creating new value for customers.

The new value may be technological in nature, but it can also be generated in many other ways including service, experience, marketing, process, etc.  It may be earth shattering, or it may be minor in nature.  The key is to keep a tight pulse on your market, customers, and competitors to understand when innovation, or new value, is being delivered and by whom.  Once that’s confirmed, assess your goals and strategies to determine if they need to be adjusted based on this new level of value in the market.

 

4. Competitors change the perception of value.

Success Starts With Self-Mastery: 7 Effective Strategies

Looking In The Mirror And Reflecting
This is a guest post by Thai Nguyen. The power of words to evoke positive change motivates Thai to write. Formerly a professional chef and international athlete, he’s now somewhere in the world with a backpack, MacBook, and a story to share. You can follow his work at The Utopian Life, Facebook or Twitter.

It all begins with looking in the mirror.  Success in the public world goes hand-in-hand with success in your private life.  Effective leadership flows from effectively leading yourself.

 

“Effective leadership flows from effectively leading yourself.” -Thai Nguyen

 

Our empirically dominated culture places all focus on the external and physical world, blinding the importance of the internal and mental.  Self-mastery is being in control of the internal thought processes that guide your emotions, habits, and behaviors.

It’s the ability to respond rather than react.  The former is done with intention and awareness, the latter is visceral and without reason.

Self-mastery is captured well in this quote attributed to many:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

It seems counterintuitive, but being selfish and focusing on enriching yourself will lead to being selfless and enriching the lives of those around you.

 

Here are 7 effective strategies for cultivating self-mastery:

 

1. Talk To Yourself

There’s a voice inside your head, and that’s completely normal. It’s your internal dialogue, the inner commentary that strives to make sense of the world.  The first crucial step in developing self-mastery is to become an observer of your thoughts—to become self-aware, self-reflective. To think about your thinking.

Throughout history, psychologists and philosophers have presented theories on the multiplicity of the human mind. Plato divided the psyche into appetitive, logical, and high spirited.  Freud categorized into the Id, Ego, and Superego.  Modern theories continue to be presented and debated.

But they all agree on the multi-dimensional aspect—as strange as it sounds, there seems to be more than one “you” inside of you.  And often, we’re at odd with ourselves.  Self-mastery is about creating inner congruence—an agreement and peace between an external stimulus, our internal interpretation, and our emotional response.

A lack of mindfulness will respond to external stimulus immediately with an emotional response.  Self-mastery causes a pattern break and allows for an internal interpretation to take place.  Stop, fully observe the emotions welling up inside you and the thoughts that present themselves.

Self-mastery requires this observation and recognition.  Label the emotions and thoughts as they present themselves.

 

“Becoming the best version of yourself will equip you to spark change in others.” -Thai Nguyen

 

2. Make Peace With Your Past

While there’s truth in the statement, we’re the sum total of our experiences, self-mastery recognizes we’re certainly not confined to them.  It’s not easy to do; our experiences, particularly negatives have a way of seeping deep into our soul.  But although some stains can’t be removed, we can choose not to wear those clothes again.

A personal example, I made peace with my father and our lack of relationship: Acknowledging the post-war trauma he was no doubt affected by, and that he had to play the father role in light of a difficult script.  Self-mastery meant not allowing past negative experiences the power of emotional collateral to spark present and future fires.  As a result, the clean slate has given birth to the relationship I’d always desired.

Making peace with your past allows you an untarnished and more objective approach to the present, ideally resulting in a positive future.  It’s hard to pick up anything new when your hands are full with burdens.  It means to let go, forgive, and as humanly possible, to forget.

Author Eleanor Brown has a great quote on mastering your past:

“There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.”

 

3. Play Devil’s Advocate

Challenging your thought patterns and reasoning will help with self-mastery.  Putting on the other shoe and playing devil’s advocate will uncover weaknesses and holes in your thinking.  A more critical mind will result in making better decisions.  You’ll be able to iron out any unreasonable biases that appear in your logic.

Whatever decision you’re working through, come at it from as many different angles as possible.  Debate with yourself, have a spirited argument.  You may be surprised at some of the insights you come up with.

 

4. Keep A Journal.

3 Common Mistakes of Strategic Planning

Chess - Bad Move

 

I’m always looking for ways to improve the strategic planning from a dreaded annual activity to a meaningful, helpful process.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking by Rich Horwath.  Rich has helped numerous companies and managers with the strategic planning process and evaluating strategic capabilities.  I had the opportunity to talk with Rich about the most common mistakes leaders make.

 

“If your strategic plan isn’t driving daily activities, then you’ve wasted time doing the plan.” -Rich Horwath

 

3 Common Mistakes of Strategic Planning

 

Rich, you’ve worked on strategy both as the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute and before that as a Chief Strategy Officer.  What are the most common mistakes you see in strategic planning?

 

There are typically three mistakes when it comes to strategic planning.

 

“The number one cause of bankruptcy is bad strategy.” -Rich Horwath

 

Mistake #1:  Confusing strategy with other planning terms.

 

The first is the group not having a universal understanding of what strategy is and how it differs from other key planning terms such as mission, vision, goals, objectives and tactics. There’s a tremendous lack of precision when it comes to strategic planning and that starts with the fundamental building blocks.

 

“Concepts change thinking and tools change behavior.” -Rich Horwath

 

Mistake #2:  Regurgitating last year’s plan.

 

The second is that most plans are simply a regurgitation of last year’s plan.  This is because managers don’t think before they plan.  I’m a big believer that new growth comes from new thinking.  If you don’t take time and tools to generate new insights, then don’t expect your group to perform any better than the year before, or the year before that.

 

Mistake #3:  Not linking the strategic plan to daily activities.

How to Create a Winning Business Culture

Star Shape Gesture
This is a guest post by Sandra Mills. Sandra specializes in covering management topics that are relevant in business and healthcare. She has managed both large and small projects on a number of occasions. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+.

When you’re trying to grow a successful business, attitude is often more important than specific skills and experience.  Someone who is eager to learn can easily be trained to meet your business’s needs, but someone who will only do the minimum to collect a paycheck will never help your business grow. Here are 6 ways to build a winning culture that will drive success.

 

1. Set clear goals

Employees who are eager to please can’t improve if they don’t know how you’d like them to improve. Broad statements such as, “Get better,” or, “Increase profits,” don’t provide a clear direction for them to follow.  A specific goal such as, “increase sales by 5%,” gives your employees a visible target to shoot for.  Once that goal is set, they’re more likely to know exactly what needs to be done to reach it.  Even if they don’t, they’ll at least know where to start to get there.

 

2. Make sure goals are reasonable

The goals you set can’t be too high or too low.  If they’re too low, they’ll be easily attainable and will create a culture of complacency instead of one of growth.  If they’re too high, employees might initially be motivated but then quickly realize they may never get there.  When that happens, morale will drop, productivity may return to or drop below previous levels, and future goals will likely be ignored.  Encourage employees to write down goals to stay focused. SMART goal planning (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely) can keep goals challenging but reasonable.  Encouraging goals to be written down will keep them measurable and in focus as well.

 

3. Don’t lose sight of the big picture

The best employees still need a strong leader in order to function well within a company. When you’re setting your goals, always think about where you want your company to be in five or ten years.  For example, sacrificing quality may increase profit margins now but may also lead to customers who leave and never want to come back.  Try to make all decisions from the top down.  Come up with a true vision for your company, the main ways to achieve it, and then set specific steps employees can take to get there.

 

4. Promote responsibility

Using Improvised Persuasion to Achieve Your Goals

Saxophonist. Man playing on saxophone against the background of

 

One of my beliefs is that everyone can benefit from understanding sales techniques.  I simplify it to say, “We are all in sales.”

Whether you actually are a sales professional or not, you will find that successful people understand sales techniques and use them in everyday life.

  • Need funding for a new business?
  • Growing your platform? 
  • Need to convince your kids to eat more veggies?

Steve Yastrow is the author of Ditch the Pitch, a new book that teaches sales people to tear up the sales script and really understand your customer.  Steve founded Yastrow and Company and helps organizations improve results through sales and marketing techniques.

We recently had a chance to catch up and talk about persuasion.

 

“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears: by listening.” -Dean Rusk

 

 

A New Approach to Persuasion

 

Sales VP’s all over the world will read the title of your book Ditch the Pitch and wonder:  “The pitch is how we sell others our ideas,” they will say, “It’s our main way of selling.”  You say that the pitch doesn’t work.  Why?

If a salesperson determines what he wants to say to a customer before he meets with that customer, the odds that this message will be the right message for this customer, at this time, are one in a million.  We can’t possibly know in advance, even with customers we’ve known for a long time, what their current mood, situation, attitudes and reactions to information will be.

Additionally, customers behave differently once they detect a pitch.  They get defensive. They resist sharing information.  They start thinking about the next meeting they need to go to.

Instead of the pitch, you have a new approach in persuasive communications.  What is it?Steve Yastrow Headshot

Improvisation.  I teach people to gain the confidence to tear up their sales pitch and create fresh, spontaneous, persuasive conversations that are interesting, relevant and meaningful to their customers.

As you have taught this model to sales leaders, have you had any pushback or concerns?  How do you help overcome the desire for a canned pitch since it is comfortable and familiar?

Often people tell me that they are not good improvisers and that they need a script to keep them on track.  The fact is, however, that these people are already awesome improvisers. Human beings were born to improvise.  We evolved to navigate an ever-changing, dynamic, unpredictable environment.  Consider this:  Have you ever had two 10-minute periods in your life that were exactly the same?  Of course not.  Without improvising, human beings wouldn’t have been able to use stone tools, track prey or cross Main Street.

And the most developed human improvisational skill is conversation.  Notice the social conversations you have; they are all created on the spot, in the moment, based on what happens in that particular interaction.  Ditch the Pitch helps people take their natural human talent for improvisation and bring it into their customer encounters.

 

“Not brute force but only persuasion and faith are the kinds of this world.” -Thomas Caryle

 

6 Habits to Persuade

 

Your book outlines six habits to persuade others.  Let’s just touch one as an example.  Habit #6 is, “Don’t Rush the Story.”  Would you highlight this one for us?

Everyone reading this interview is knowledgeable and expert about what they sell.  Inevitably, this expertise helps us quickly diagnose customer situations and develop solutions.  The problem is that we will always devise these solutions before our customers are ready to hear them, and if we tell them to our customers too soon we will overwhelm them.  The idea is to be patient and bring information into your persuasive conversation at a pace your customer can accept.