“Without a compass bearing, a ship would neither find its port nor be able to estimate the time required to get there.” – Peter Drucker
Before the pandemic hit, most organisations had a strategy in place to get them to where they wanted to be. Then covid chaos reigned, and all those painstakingly prescriptive strategies, thoughtfully refined and unanimously endorsed, flew right out the window. Busy triaging emergencies, the focus was squarely on survival. But now it’s time to refocus, gather up your learnings and plot out a sustainable path forward. While we don’t have a post-pandemic playbook for you, we do have strategic leadership expert Belinda Brosnan – and she’s got five excellent tips to help set your new strategy up for success!
While the pandemic may have blown a hole in your old strategy document, the experience gained over the last couple of years is invaluable when it comes to setting your business up for the future. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Use those learnings to build the foundations of your new strategy. And keep these tips in mind if you want that strategy to work.
1. Strategy without culture is senseless
Neither eats the other for breakfast. As an example, if your past strategy was based on the primary operating model of operational efficiency, then switching to a strategy with the primary operating model of customer intimacy cannot succeed without incorporating the culture needed to make that happen. As you get your strategy planning underway, there must be a conversation about culture. Without it, your strategy will go nowhere very fast.
Involve those who matter most in the development of your strategy, as they will make or break your progress. Also reflect on your values and how they should influence your strategy development – they are, after all, meant to be living, breathing words in action!
2. Slow down to speed up
Right now, executives are exhausted. Planning for the future can be overwhelming, especially if they’re already navigating huge change and transformation. Patience levels are often challenged.
One of the quotes I love is from John Legend – “the future started yesterday and we’re already late”. The trap of the reactionary nature necessitated by the pandemic has meant that strategy has taken a back seat, with many organisations in survival mode. Organisations and their executives feel like they are in a perpetual treadmill of ‘catching up’. As many scramble to piece together a strategic direction for the future that incorporates some of the greatest challenges faced, including the war for talent, exhaustion levels mean good strategic thinking is hindered.
The shift to hybrid working has also meant many people are forgetting how to build connections with each other. Short fuses mean stunted strategy. Make space in your strategy development for thinking and reconnecting. Change your environment. Strategy developed in the same place you work means your ‘at work’ behaviours may sabotage great thought leadership (think phones, emails, interruptions).
3. Ditch vague platitudes, dial up conversation
Just as important as developing a strategy is taking the time to create the foundations for robust conversation.
As a practitioner of Judith Glaser’s work on conversational intelligence, your strategy (and culture) is only as good as the quality of the conversations you are having. Strategy plans need to mitigate the temptation to fall into jargon that ‘sounds’ professional, but ultimately is vague and multidimensional in meaning.
This means being willing to drill down into often-used words that have no ‘active’ meaning. For example, maybe your company’s mission is a brighter future for customers? How will you know the future is bright? How can you see it, hear it, feel it, touch it? If you are to bring your people with you for the ride, your end game (and their important contribution to that) needs to be explicit.
During a culture change program I worked on years ago, the executives were relentlessly communicating to their people the importance of flexibility as part of their strategy. The shift in market pressures on the price of coal meant that cost-cutting alone would not deliver the results required. Strategically, they wanted to explore culturally how to create productivity gains. Flexibility was deemed essential to this.
The only trouble was, most of their people had no idea what flexibility meant for them in action. “When the leadership team say we need to be flexible, does that mean I should drive a vehicle I don’t have a license for? Does flexibility mean they are expecting me to work longer hours for no additional pay? Does flexibility mean I have to take on a different role now?”.
The executive team were equally frustrated. Despite their continuing reference to flexibility, nothing was really changing. When the executive team realised the missing in translation impact, they were able to engage in real conversation that explored what flexibility meant in action for individuals, and HOW it would make a difference to the results of the organisation. Be clear on what is needed in action. Otherwise, the status quo will remain.
4. Progress, not perfection
The complexity of systems, large organisations and shifting context means that aiming for perfection will see your strategy development become fraught with issues and interpersonal conflict. A strategy with a 3-5-year horizon, and small defined goalposts within that, will ensure there is built-in flexibility. This means a focus more on small, achievable shifts that reduce risk and build in flexibility and resilience. It also means less uncertainty for your people who need stability and hope from their leaders.
As Alex Komoroske, head of strategy for Stripe describes, be less ‘builder’ and more ‘gardener’ with strategy and its application. Remember strategy is a living, breathing thing, rather than a few pages stuffed in the desk drawer.
5. Reframe resistance
As you work through strategy, siloed thinking and ‘us vs them’ pressures can interfere with the alignment of your people and the strategy forward. Resistance through this process may be seen as personal or even political. Leading strategy means you need to see resistance for its simplicity before taking it personally. Resistance is telling you that there is fear or lack of information holding you back from being influential. If you are committed to the process of developing and implementing strategy, then learn to let go more and dial up the curiosity and perspective required to gain full perspective. Influence will follow.
Covid-19 wasn’t the first major disruption in history, and it won’t be the last. But crisis really can be a powerful catalyst for positive change.
We’ve learned the hard way that strategy can no longer be a set-and-forget proposition – you need to incorporate all those covid learnings into a flexible, adaptable strategy that allows you to course-correct if necessary. But even the best strategy in the world won’t succeed if you don’t have the right building blocks in place to bring that strategy to life. With the right culture, taking the time to reconnect, clearly defining what’s required and understanding any resistance, your strategy will get the support it needs to bring you the results it was designed to achieve.
In a time where change and uncertainty is the new status quo, Belinda Brosnan is an expert at finding clarity and direction amidst the chaos. With credentials in executive coaching, conversational intelligence and NeuroLeadership, Belinda is a gifted communicator and powerful motivational speaker. With a relaxed and real approach, Belinda’s presentations are thought-provoking, humorous and supremely practical, inspiring leaders to adapt, level-up and influence in these changing times. If you’d like Belinda to help take your team to the next level, talk to us about engaging her for your event today!