Imagine that you are having a conversation with a group of new recruits to your company. One of them asks you the following question: What is the core strategy of your business? Would you be able to answer this question clearly, without mumbling something about financial goals and growth targets? How would your answer compare with the clear mission and purpose embodied by major players like Nike or Apple?
If this poses a problem for you, you aren’t alone.
Reinvigorating Strategic Leadership
Harvard Business School professor Cynthia A. Montgomery argues that “we’ve lost sight of where strategies come from and the distinctive role leaders play in the process.” This rupture between leadership and strategy began during the late 1980’s, when strategy began to be relegated to the role of an analytical exercise, separate from the role of leadership. While this was helpful, it created a false distinction between leadership and strategy.
To bring the leadership component back into strategy, you as a leader need to ask yourself some difficult questions:
• What does my company contribute to the world?
• Does that contribution matter?
• Is that contribution unique and inimitable?
• How do we adapt to keep our contribution meaningful in the future?
These questions need to be on your mind at all times. You need to see your company as the protagonist in an ongoing story, and be willing to change with the narrative.
• Think of your current advantages as stepping stones to future advantages, rather than as your core strategy.
• Constantly be checking for strategic clarity. Everything you do should be strategically motivated. If you can’t clearly explain a decision’s strategic underpinnings, you need to rethink it.
This is a good start, but reinvigorating strategic leadership is just the first step in a long process toward strategy rehabilitation.
Bridging The Gap Between “Business Strategy” and “Strategy Implementation”
A study by leadership guru Dr. John Kotter, spanning thirty years of research, has shown that 70% of strategic initiatives in organizations fail.
Strategies fail because they do not take the necessary holistic approach needed to achieve follow-through.
Dr. Kotter recommends an 8-step process in order to avoid this atrocious rate of failure.
• Step 1: Create a sense of urgency among management to convince them of the necessity of acting immediately
• Step 2: Form a Guiding Coalition, a group with enough combined power to lead the change. This group should work closely and collaboratively as a team
• Step 3: Develop a Change Vision, a clear communication of the changes necessary, and an explanation of the ways to achieve them.
• Step 4: Communicate the Change Vision to maximize buy-in. This should be a simple, vivid, concisely repeatable, and easily discussable pitch for your plan and should be disseminated across all organizational levels, replacing the tedious quarterly board meeting with a dynamic conversational process.
• Step 5: Break down obstacles to cange, revamp systems that undermine the vision, and begin encouraging risk-taking behavior toward the end of implementing the change.
• Step 6: Plan for and generate short-term wins. Your new system should immediately begin resulting in easily achievable positive results in order to keep people on board with the project. Supplement this with rewards and recognition for achievements.
• Step 7: Leverage these early wins to ramp up the pace of change, and aggressively promote employees who effectively implement it. Continually reinvigorate this process.
• Step 8: Begin incorporating changes into your corporate culture, emphasizing the links between new behaviors and the achievement of goals.
Of course this all depends on and derives from the dynamism of your leadership. If you’re sitting around waiting for a project to be completed that was due last week, head down to the trenches and get involved. Get some face-time with your team and begin discussing changes that need to be made. Seek out the good things happening in your company and start encouraging them more broadly. You can begin seeing progress and increased engagement right away. Start brainstorming now about how you can redirect your company’s strategy. Once you reaffirm your role as both leader and strategist, you’ll be well on the way to developing a robust and reinvigorated corporate strategy.