When we get an opportunity to express our opinion freely and we feel heard, it is amazing how unattached we can be to our opinion. This is the secret to developing compelling strategies and excellence in execution. Great leaders, exceptional teams and outstanding organizations follow this simple golden rule consistently.
Strategy development and execution is a critical discipline and a favorite of mine, because it encompasses all the elements of what it takes to build exceptional leadership teams and organizations. Every organization has to engage in this activity. Instead of defaulting to a reactive process, a proactive and enlightened approach will yield rich dividends. Leaders and leadership teams are typically very well equipped with the following:
- Knowledge of the market, customers, competition and their own organizational capabilities.
- Intelligence (IQ), analytical skills, work ethic and drive to succeed.
- Technology and tools to communicate and share information expeditiously and efficiently.
And yet very few teams go through and come out of this process fully engaged, aligned, energized and inspired. The manner in which these sessions are conducted is very revealing of the culture and effectiveness of the team. For many of them, as one CEO said, “Strategic planning is a routine, boring and predictable process.” Why is that? I have had the distinct pleasure of facilitating and participating in hundreds of strategy planning sessions. In this brief article I will present some of the common mistakes made and breakthrough practices followed by exceptional leadership teams and outstanding organizations.
Typical mistakes made in strategy planning
1. Rush the process: Many teams do not take the time and discipline necessary to go through the process. No strategy survives contact with reality they say. While this is true, we cannot afford not to develop the best strategy possible based on the information and resources on hand. A great example of this is NASA: They conduct a rigorous and exhaustive strategy planning process and once the space ship takes off, 99% of the effort is focused on course correction of the strategy that was developed.
2. Do not encourage debate: There is a rightful concern that we cannot accommodate everyone’s perspective and consensus is very difficult if not impossible to achieve. Then why spend or waste time listening to everyone? Because the purpose of debate is not to achieve consensus, it is to get the best possible ideas and options on the table.
3. Do not focus on buy-in: Many leaders and leadership teams under estimate what it takes to get buy-in. They assume that just because no one objected everyone is on board. A sure way to not achieve buy-in is to talk about collaboration and then offer non-negotiable top-down directives. An effective strategic planning session is one where everyone is bought into the final plan, irrespective of their personal opinion.
4. Make it growth centric: When a planning session is conducted with year over year growth as the primary objective, there is a risk of not fully tapping into what we are capable of. We may be over looking opportunities that could give us even greater growth or we pursue options that force us to cut corners.
5. It is all about execution: Yes, if it is the right strategy. No, if we are brilliantly executing a poor strategy.
1. Align values – It’s about the process: They set the foundation for a robust discussion by establishing guiding values and principles such as openness, authenticity, collaboration, risk taking and not attached to being right. They work hard to overcome narrow agendas and limiting beliefs.
2. Pursue full engagement and commitment:They actively work to ensure everyone is fully engaged and committed to the process. They encourage quieter members to participate and reign in those that dominate discussion and squelch opposing perspectives.
3.Do not seek or force consensus: They encourage debate and express differences of viewpoints and thoroughly review strategic options. They do not force or seek consensus, focus is on operational consensus. Every member of the team agrees to support and vigorously execute the final decision.
4. Unleash full capability: They avoid “gaming” the system and don’t limit themselves by only seeking growth from the previous year. They ensure that input from all representative groups is considered. They arrive at targets that stretch them to think and act outside the box.
5. Evaluate and course correct: They recognize that strategic planning is a dynamic process. They evaluate progress and establish the environment for real-time course correction.
These practices are based on a keen understanding of human nature and behaviors that inspire extraordinary performance. This is the domain of personal and organizational mastery which most professional leaders and teams are not skilled in. Exceptional leadership teams and organizations integrate superior business practices and intellectual capacity with emotional mastery and deliver consistently. They translate good intentions to impactful actions. They remove obstacles that come in the way and establish the environment to inspire full engagement and commitment.