Cynthia Montgomery’s new book, The Strategist, will challenge you to rethink your approach to business strategy. For over twenty years Professor Montgomery has taught at Harvard Business School. For six of those years she led the strategy track at Harvard Business School’s executive program for owner-managers, personally helping business leaders around the world with strategy formation. Her experience is that rare blend of the academic with the practical, and her new book offers business leaders the benefit of her extensive experience.
Every year, I read numerous business books and can say that this is one that won’t be relegated to a shelf. It’s a blueprint, a guide to leading your company with greater success. Nothing is spared, and you will question not only your company strategy but also your personal leadership of the strategic process. See if you can answer with clarity the following questions:
Are you a strategist?
Why does your company matter?
Are you the leader your business needs?
Is your strategy filled with generic statements and empty clichés?
Do you know where your company is going and why?
After reading the book, I was personally challenged to rethink strategy. I recently had the opportunity to ask Cynthia about her work and her vast experience in strategy formulation and leadership.
Of all the rooms in our home, the one that accumulates clutter the fastest seems to be the garage. Maybe it’s because we pull the car in quickly. We’re only in the space for a few seconds. Maybe it’s because it’s not air-conditioned or heated, making it a real chore to clean in most months. Or maybe it’s because the items that are placed there are the ones in limbo. You know what I mean. You can’t throw them out easily or you would. That piece of furniture that holds some memories but doesn’t fit the décor of the home. The box of old magazines holding some articles you marked for some reason or another. A nice shelf lined with old shoes that may still fit but have long passed the glory days. Of course, you knew at the time you dropped these items in this state of limbo that they would never return to inside the house.
The clutter built up so slowly that it was unnoticed. We didn’t talk about it like we would if something inside needed to be cleaned up.
I’m guessing that most everyone has a space like this. Last weekend, I spent a marathon cleaning session in the garage. The shoes ended up donated to Soles4Souls. The clothes went to Goodwill. Other items were sent for recycling or to the trash.
I worked non-stop with my characteristic obsession. When I have a goal in mind, I can’t seem to stop. I don’t want to stop. I even worked through most of the night in order to get it all done.
Remember the brilliant animated movie A Bug’s Life? (Disclaimer for animated purists: I haven’t watched the movie in a few years, so this is my mind’s interpretation, which may be technically inaccurate.)
There’s a scene shot next to a camper van. It’s a quiet evening. You hear the night sounds of all of the insects chirping and buzzing. It’s a peaceful evening.
You then see a bug light glowing in the background. Two bugs are talking as they fly in the area of the light. One starts to go closer to the light when the other one calls out, “don’t look at the light!” His bug friend, continuing to move closer to the light, says “I can’t help it. It’s so beautiful!”
Seconds later you wince as you hear the inevitable buzzing sound and see the flashing light. The bug screams as the bug light does its job and kills the insect.
The bug light. Or, as this website calls it, the “electrical-discharge insect-control system.” It’s designed to rid your outdoors of annoying insects.
So many times in life what may look good isn’t in our best interest. The key question is how do you distinguish between genuine opportunity and a disaster. And that discernment isn’t always easy. What can help guide you?
One of the questions I always ask a customer is why.
Why did you choose us? I love to call new customers and ask. I’ve done this hundreds of times throughout my career. In all of those conversations, I’ve never had a new customer not want to tell me the “why.” And I learn valuable information with each phone call or visit.
It’s such an easy thing to ask. I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t make it a habit. Like most things, it may be easy to do but it’s also easy not to do. I know when I fall out of the habit, I lose a valuable opportunity.
Almost always mentioned is the professionalism of the company’s representative. It may also be the service, the product, or the price. It could also be driven by a negative experience with the competition.
It’s important to listen and understand why customers are buying from you. It can inform your corporate strategy. You may spot a trend. You may learn that you have strengths you didn’t even realize. You may even develop new services because of the feedback.
Almost invariably on these calls I find other benefits:
Developing new relationships
Hearing about issues I wouldn’t have known about
Learning about employees who have gone above and beyond
If you’re running a business or in a leadership position, take the time out to make a few calls. Ask the question. Then, just listen and take notes. I’m willing to bet you will learn more than you thought possible.