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?

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

How Leaders Create A Compelling Vision to Engage & Inspire

company vision

Lead With Vision

Leaders create a vision and engage a community to achieve it.

What does it mean to lead with vision?

It’s a question that authors Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter, and John Maketa researched extensively, surveying over 400 companies in search of the answer.

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book, LEADING WITH VISION: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce.

 

Would you share the story about “going up the stairs two steps at a time” and how it impacted your view of leadership and culture?

Yes, of course.  Back in 2006 I had a meeting with Jim Bolt, the founder of Executive Development Associates (EDA), to discuss how I would run the company. Jim had been developing senior leaders since the early 1980s and was a renowned expert in the field. I knew I had much to learn from Jim and hoped we could work together. I didn’t know at the time that the very first piece of advice he would give me would shape and inform every leadership decision I have made since. Before I left that meeting, Jim handed me a book from his shelf called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, a sports clothing company.

The book is the story of Patagonia with an emphasis, almost a plea, for sustainability.  Jim wanted me to start thinking about how we could help with this effort, I read the book but it was something else within that captured my attention. The CEO of Patagonia wanted to build an organization where employees were compelled to come to work. Yvon Chouinard wanted a company where employees were a part of their environmental mission.  He wanted employees to be wholly engaged and committed.  He said, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time” (Chouinard 2005, 45).

That statement struck me as extremely important.  Imagine the creativity and courage and productivity that would come from a workforce like that.  The power of it is immeasurable.  That is what visionary leadership can do.  It can unleash the power of the workforce.

 

Visionary leaders create a clear picture of a positive future state.

 

The 4 C’s of a Visionary Leader

What’s your definition of a visionary leader?

A visionary leader is a person who steps out and creates a clear picture of a positive future state.  It takes a lot of courage because creating a vision for the future is basically imagining what could be and what should be.  That feels very risky for leaders.  It is stepping out of the norm.  There are certain things they will need to do.  In the book we explain further by putting it into 4 Cs.  They must:

  1. Embody courage,
  2. Forge clarity,
  3. Build connectedness, and
  4. Shape the culture.

 

What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision? 

A Leader’s Role in Achieving Excellence in Execution

Leadership execution
This is a guest post by Robin Speculand, author of Excellence in Execution: How to Implement Your Strategy. Robin is the founder and CEO of Bridges Business Consultancy and creator of the Implementation Hub.

Don’t Lead by Example

To guide an organization through the execution of its strategy, leaders… don’t lead by example.

In strategy execution, leaders are responsible for driving the strategy forward and championing the direction the organization is heading. This involves, for example, reviewing progress, coaching people, resolving issues, and ensuring the right outcomes are being achieved. Leaders don’t lead by example as they don’t implement strategy; their employees do.

Before you even start your strategy execution, the odds are stacked against you as more fail than succeed. I have seen from my seventeen years consulting in this field that leaders are guilty of delegating the execution and not paying adequate attention to it. When leaders do this, their people also stop paying attention to it. McKinsey & Company stated that, “Half of all efforts to transform organization performance fail either because leaders don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organization defend the status quo.”

 

Show Confidence in the Strategy

If leaders perceive execution as an interruption to the business, they will not drive and champion it.

Anything short of embracing a new strategy and its execution by leaders can be seen by employees as a lack of confidence in the strategy itself. That feeling will spread throughout the organization.

  • If you only apply lip service to the execution without championing it, employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.
  • If you don’t create the time to oversee the implementation journey, change the agenda and explain why the organization needs to transform, then employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.
  • If you don’t set the strategy and create the budget to allocate required funding, employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.

 

Booz and Co. Survey: 53% don’t believe their company’s strategy will lead to success.

 

A key question to consider is:What are you willing to do to execute your organization’s strategy?”

In contrast, strategy execution progresses when leaders support their comments with time and actions. Because only so much can go on a leader’s radar, he or she has to carefully select which actions will best drive the execution forward and where to invest their time.

Booz & Company surveyed executives from around the world on the results of their organizations’ strategic initiatives. Given more than 2,350 responses, the findings suggest a high degree of disillusionment, including:

  • Two-thirds (67%) say their company’s capabilities do not fully support the company’s own strategy and the way it creates value in the market.
  • Only one in five executives (21%) thinks the company has a “right to win” in all the markets it competes in.
  • Most of the respondents (53%) don’t believe their company’s strategy would lead to success.

If leaders don’t believe in the strategy, they will never be authentic and sincere in executing it.

 

PWC Survey: 55% of CEO’s state lack of trust is a major threat to growth.

 

Demonstrate Increased Commitment