How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy

stand out strategy

Making Big Decisions Better

All organizations are faced with decisions. What to focus on, what to invest in, how to get to there from here are all common questions when approaching strategy.

I’ve read many books on strategy. There are many that are theoretical. I enjoy them and think about the implications. But there are a few that are actionable. As a CEO, I can use aspects of them immediately. That’s what I found when I read Tim Lewko’s new book, Making Big Decisions Better: How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy. Tim Lewko is the CEO of Thinking Dimensions Group, and his book goes right to the core of setting strategy that you can implement immediately.

I followed up with him to discuss his new book and his strategic work.

 

“Strategy is decision-making.” –Tim Lewko

 

Develop a Common Definition of Strategy

Why is it problematic that most of us don’t share a common definition of “strategy”?

Not having a common definition of strategy creates all the problems CEOs, executives, managers and people who want to make their mark are trying to avoid in the critical areas of:

Purpose

Growth

Profit

 

What are some of the common misconceptions about strategy?

The list could be quite long but I will share the top three that trip up firms in setting a quality strategy—and that are easy to fix if the CEO and leadership chooses to. They are:

  • EUREKA – It’s a magical idea that just comes to you
  • SINGULAR – One person holds the key to the great idea
  • BYPASS SWEAT EQUITY – Outsiders can tell you the answer and it should work

 

“Cause is king for sustaining results.” –Tim Lewko

 

Be Wary of Outsourcing Strategy

Why is it often problematic to “outsource strategy” work?making big decisions better book jacket

There are many large successful firms that come and provide the “answer” that shows up as a long set of PowerPoint slides – and this prescriptive approach is the choice for many CEOs.  However, the approach which I practice is process based – where we bring a proven strategy system that “forces tough tradeoffs” and leaves them in a better place because they created the strategy and understand how to modify the choices as events fold.  This process approach helps to avoid the problems associated with outsourcing strategy including:

  • DEFAULT on sweat equity – missing out on working through, understanding and deciding the key things that matter from EXTERNAL and INTERNAL standpoints
  • TOLD WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW – in my experience, clients already know 85% of what’s holding the business back (outsiders may give you 60%) so why pay for what is already known?
  • DELAY or DESTROY BUY-IN – if you outsource strategy, you have already short-changed your ability to implement the strategy – because you have side-stepped the most important people – your executive team and workforce who need to intimately understand the why behind the PRODUCT, MARKET and CAPABILITY choices that are being made. Sure, a great CEO communication or town hall helps to sell the outsourced strategy, but deep down those closest to the issues feel side-stepped – and it takes an awful lot of time to get them to buy in to something that is not theirs.

 

“Unwarranted complications are killing strategy in organizations.” –Tim Lewko

 

Have a Visible Process for Strategy

How Personal Experience Shapes Executive Presence

confidence

 

Are you leadership material?

How do you become influential?

What are the qualities of executive presence?

 

Most of us want to increase our influence, but many don’t know where to start. There are behaviors that influence others, and there are ways to increase your leadership presence.

Diana Jones brings three decades worth of experience in leadership development and packs it into her new book, Leadership Material: How Personal Experience Shapes Executive Presence. Diana is a leadership coach, advisor, and relationship specialist. I recently spoke with her about her research.

 

“Leaders with executive presence seamlessly blend personal experience with their professional identity.” –Diana Jones

 

The Professional and Personal Are Linked

“It’s a myth that a leader’s personal qualities must remain separate from their professional identity.” You share a story of an awful tragedy and how you kept that private during a leadership retreat. Tell us more about the intersection between the personal and professional.diana jones

The core premise of my work is that leaders personal and professional identities aren’t separate. They are inextricably linked. Leaders have been fooled into thinking that being impersonal and rational leads to success. It doesn’t. Poor engagement and alienation results. Without personal qualities, leaders are faceless bureaucrats, and their staff find it difficult to connect with them. Our experience of being with any leader is greatly influenced by their personal qualities.

My book deals with leaders’ professional identities. By thoughtfully choosing what is personal, what is private, and what they let come to the foreground in their interactions, leaders influence how others experience them. I coach leaders to bring helpful personal qualities into their interactions. Leaders with personal qualities like contempt, demanding, and cold create anxiety and emotional turmoil around them. People don’t like working with them. Leaders with personal qualities such as being insightful, approachable, and succinct have powerful effects in inspiring others to action.

The secret in my book Leadership Material is that if you don’t know who and what has shaped you as a leader, you won’t be able to lead people. The key lever for developing as a leader is through your earlier life experiences. By uncovering the likely source of unhelpful behaviors, you then have a choice of your current authentic response which builds relationships and produces results.

 

“When people feel understood and accepted, they flourish.” –Diana Jones

 

Successful Leaders Share Personal Stories

When do you share?

Successful leaders share their personal stories. They do this to:

  • Inspire teams to connect around a shared purpose, direction, or action
  • Let others know how to work with them

Staff hear and experience the leader’s authenticity, and there is shared understanding. This draws people to those leaders.

Leaders build trust by letting their boss and peers know how they think and feel about important matters.

 

“Up to 70% of a team’s climate is determined by the leader.” –Hay Group Research

 

How much is oversharing?

The #1 Thing that Should Keep Leaders Up at Night

leaders up at night

Find the Katherines

 

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson turns 99 years young this week.

She was born August 26, 1918. Her life has been nothing short of extraordinary. No one could have predicted her success when she born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the youngest of four children. Her father worked various jobs at the Greenbrier Hotel. Her mother was a teacher. As a young girl, she loved to count and showed a strong interest in math. Her abilities were recognized, and she entered college at fifteen and graduated at eighteen.

Starting her career as a teacher, she later moved to work at the Langley Memorial Laboratory at NASA.

As an African American woman in the early 1950s, she began to break one barrier after another. She overcame considerable sexism and racism, distinguishing herself through her work ethic and genius in the field of analytic geometry.

Her early work led to the discovery that larger planes disrupt air currents and can cause smaller aircraft to crash long afterwards, bringing a change to flight patterns and saving lives. She famously worked on the calculations that helped bring Senator John Glenn back from the first American orbital mission.

Senator Glenn trusted her over the first IBM mainframe computers. He wouldn’t okay the mission until Katherine okayed the math.

From the moon landing to the Space Shuttle program, Katherine was there, making an impact on it all.

All this extraordinary history, and Katherine’s struggles and triumphs, is beautifully told in Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, put them on your must-read and watch list! It documents a shameful period in history, but one that must be remembered. I found it incredibly inspiring to demonstrate the inherent evil, bias and prejudice we must always fight against.)

 

“The greatest talents often lie buried out of sight.” -Plautus

 

Learn from Katherine’s Extraordinary Career

So, on her 99th birthday, we can learn many lessons from her career success:

  • She learned continuously.
  • She cultivated her unique gifts.
  • She lived on the edge of her comfort zone.
  • She demonstrated courage in the face of racism and sexism.
  • She overcame others’ false, negative perceptions.
  • She trail-blazed thinking and challenged tradition.
  • She broke barriers mathematically, socially, and academically.

No wonder she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She not only contributed to the USA’s success in space, but her courage, tenacity, and determination changed people, perceptions, and processes all along the way.

Amazing.

 

 

“Katherine knew: once you took the first step, anything was possible.” –Margot Lee Shetterly

 

The Leadership Lesson Behind the Story

But there’s something else that strikes me as I reflect on her lifetime of achievement. It’s something that, as a leader, no one tells you about in school or in classes. It’s something that, as a business leader and CEO, I ponder quite a bit.

The Mythical Leader: 7 Myths of Leadership

mythical leader

Misunderstanding Leadership

My friend Ron Edmondson is a pastor, author, blogger, and consultant. After reading his leadership book The Mythical Leader: Seven Myths of Leadership, I followed up with him to discuss the many misunderstandings people have about leadership.

 

“Leadership is influence.” -John Maxwell

 

Avoid the Boss Mentality

I often say that leadership is personal, not positional. Myth number one hits this immediately. What are some of the problems with the “boss has ruled” mentality?

I so hate the word boss. Maybe because I’ve had one and, no, I never want to be seen as one. Frankly, from a purely practical standpoint, the “boss has ruled” mentality simply doesn’t work. It might get the job done for a while, but it will wear people out over time. We don’t get the best people have to offer because they will only do what has to be done to meet the “boss’s” expectation. But, I think there is a bigger reason. It’s wrong. At least from my Biblical perspective, we are all – regardless of title or position – ultimately to be servants of others.

 

“The culture the leader creates impacts the feedback a leader receives.” -Ron Edmondson

 

Myth number two says that if you’re not hearing complaints, everyone must be happy. Tell us a little more about this observation.

I’ve learned even in the best organizations and on the healthiest teams, the leader only knows what they know. And, people may be either hesitant to share what they are really feeling for fear, or retribution or they assume the leader already knows the problems. I go through seasons, as the leader, where I’m simply getting the required things done. I’m traveling a lot. I’ve got a lot of projects on my plate. If I’m not careful, I can assume silence means agreement. I must consistently be asking good questions to make sure I know the true pulse of the organization.

 

7 Myths of Leadership

Myth 1: A position will make me a leader.

Myth 2: If I am not hearing anyone complain, everyone must be happy.

Myth 3: I can lead everyone the same way.

Myth 4: Leadership and management are the same thing.

Myth 5: Being the leader makes me popular.

Myth 6: Leaders must have charisma and be extroverts.

Myth 7: Leaders accomplish by controlling others.

 

 

How to Lead Creatives

Your Playbook to Digital Transformation

Digital Business Transformation concept with arrow of compass (3

Reach for the Future

Nearly every business is impacted by digital transformation.

The key question for leaders is how to overcome the pull of the past to reach for the digital future. The authors of Digital@Scale: The Playbook You Need to Transform Your Company have developed a playbook based on years of McKinsey experience and research.

I recently spoke to author Anand Swaminathan, Senior Partner in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, about the book and his work in the area of digital transformation.

 

“Change is the end result of all true learning.” -Leo Buscaglia

 

3 Barriers to Change 

What do leaders need to know about identifying the barriers to change?

In our experience, executives face a fundamental conflict: Change requires a sense of urgency while highly-efficient organizations tend to have high levels of inertia. When business is going well, managers and employees generally only pay lip service to change requirements. Knowing that, there are three barriers we’ve identified:

  1. The good is the enemy of the better: Efficient, currently successful organizations often slow down the necessary change: Why cannibalize what is successful today? Why destroy efficiency gains of a ‘well-oiled machine’?
  2. Watch out for your top team: Ironically, today’s most successful managers might be the ones slowing down your transformation efforts since they have the most to lose. Transformation needs to start with the person at the top, and it’s often those who have grown accustomed to success that find it most difficult to change course.
  3. Your DNA takes time to change: Don’t underestimate the time and effort required to change deep-rooted mindsets and ways of working. Your legacy business exerts a natural gravitational pull that will stop all meaningful change unless you’re persistent and change at enough scale to break through

 

“Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning.” -Richard Rohr

 

What is the role of the CEO when it comes to digital transformation?

The successful digital transformations we see out there have one common denominator: the CEO spearheading and promoting the digital transformation. They are making it front and center of their personal agenda. Only if change is demonstrated and exemplified by the top management will the necessary changes to structures, processes, management instruments, as well as the establishment of new skills and new IT systems, be successful. That can mean using new technologies, challenging existing ways of doing business, and making the bold decisions necessary to change the trajectory of the business.

 

Assess Your Readiness

How can management assess the current strategy of the company and its readiness for digital transformation?Digital@Scale book cover

That’s two questions. The first is understanding your strategy, and that requires looking at sources of value – where they’re created in your business and in your sector. Most important, you need to look at where sources of value are being created outside of your sector – that’s where some of the biggest changes (and challenges) might be happening.

Then you need to look at where you are today and what needs to change. There are lots of assessments and diagnostics out there, but you need to take a cold-eyed view of where you are as a digital business and what needs to be in place to drive value at scale. As an example, we have developed a comprehensive benchmark to derive a company’s Digital Quotient (DQTM), road-tested with several hundred organizations across the globe. It helps leadership to take stock compared to best practices across sectors and within its own industry.

In addition to the benchmark, some questions that management should start with to determine the urgency and their organization’s readiness for change include:

  • Are we assessing whether we can use our strengths to penetrate completely new industries within the current rules?
  • Are we actively creating an ecosystem of partners, customers and suppliers that will last into the digital world?
  • Have we defined a feasible timescale and meaningful KPIs to reliably measure success or failure?

 

“Transformation literally means going beyond your form.” -Wayne Dyer

 

Break the Silos