Why do corporate strategies fail? Why do consultancy firms often say, “It was the execution of the strategy that was the problem, not the strategy itself”? Or when government policy fails why do politicians give some variant Harold MacMillan’s alleged explanation: “Events, dear boy, events!”
This is the second shift that all successful leaders need to make: you’ve got to get strategic. And this means moving from having others define your goals to taking control and saying, “This is what needs to change and here is how.”
Why you are best placed
I’ve seen businesses and governments spend lots of money and time writing detailed strategies with one of two outcomes: the strategy either sits on a shelf and nothing happens or, alternatively, it gets implemented and chaos ensues.
Of course, it’s not always this bad, but it happens far too often. And it happens because those designing the strategy have not fully understood the challenges and the people involved; and they don’t adjust as they learn more about what is or is not working.
Well guess what! As a leader of your organisation, you do understand your challenges and your people, and you are best placed to judge what is or is not working and make adjustments accordingly. So you are best placed to develop the strategic insight and leadership that your organisation so badly needs.
Four questions to ask
- Are you crystal clear about how to solve your biggest corporate challenges?
- Do you always project confidence, strength and clarity in key meetings and events?
- Are you creating sufficient drive and momentum across your organization?
- Are all your staff clear about what needs to happen?
If the answer to any of these is anything but a resounding “YES!” then you’ve got to work on your strategic skills.
What makes for good strategy?
Imagine going to a great doctor with a significant medical problem. The great doctor will not move quickly to prescribe. Rather, she will listen carefully to you and your symptoms, she may run further tests and she may seek opinions from other specialists before making a diagnosis and recommending what to do.
So it is with great strategy. You’ve got to:
- Understand the problem: listen, watch, see, hear and feel what’s going on
- Reach a clear and accurate diagnosis: sift for the important facts and insights
- Set a clear plan of action: make sure it is achievable and act with conviction
How to develop your strategic skills
- Seek first to understand: spend time working through the issues and challenges that your organization faces; don’t move too fast to solutions. Look at different angles and challenges and listen to a wide range of opinions. With a deep understanding of what is going on you will be far better placed to develop your strategy.
- Speak plainly: don’t use fluffy phrases and management speak to hide woolly thinking. Steve Jobs did this brilliantly. He got down to hard tacks and asked very simple, direct questions to get to the heart of the matter
- Take an outsider’s perspective: if you can’t explain it to an outsider (your mother, a customer, a friend) then you probably don’t understand it well enough. Don’t get caught up in all the technical detail – just keep asking yourself whether you can explain it clearly
- Consolidate and clarify: typically, I find that a handful of key shifts provide the focus or kernel of the strategy. With these in place, most other elements of what needs to change will flow
It really is worth spending time and effort getting clear on your strategy. It creates the insight, focus and direction your organisation needs to thrive in our changing world. It gives you the confidence to walk into the boardroom or staff briefing and say, “This is where we are going. This is what needs to change. And this is how we’re going to do it”. Leading in this way, with passion, conviction and clarity will greatly increase your chances of success.
[This is the second shift for aspiring leaders. I will update this post with others when they are published.]