For over a decade, I’ve had the unique opportunity to study and experience first-hand what makes strategy the significant force that it is in business. Teaching CMOE’s Applied Strategic Thinking® workshop for a variety of organizations has afforded me the chance to see strategy that works— and strategy that needs work. I’ve witnessed how strategy gets identified and implemented, as well as what strategy can do for all levels of business. Being on the front lines of teaching strategic thinking skills to team members, leaders, teams, business units, and organizations I have learned two important lessons related to strategic success.
The first lesson is that someone somewhere wants something better than it is today. This could be a CEO, VP, investors, or someone else with a vested interest in whatever “better” is. Whether it is in the area of technology, speed, performance, efficiency, knowledge, etc.; at some point we are all asked to contribute to “better,” however “better” is defined. In many cases the main focus of better is related to economics.
You might ask the question: What is the number one goal of a business? The answer in simple terms is to make a profit. If you pay attention to your business there is inevitably somebody saying the business needs to make more profit, increase ROIC, become number #1 in the market, or improve shareholder earnings. Believe me; someone wants things better than they are now.
So, how does all of this relate to strategy? Think of the need to achieve better in these terms: Your business today has an overarching business strategy, and to accomplish the business strategy there must be a strategic plan. The strategic plan likely includes initiatives or goals to accomplish over a certain period of time. Objectives related to operations, tactics, sales, or “the way that you do business,” is probably a big part of the strategic plan.
The next question then is; to be “better”, what has to happen? We know that better does not occur when we do the same thing over and over again. Meaning, something has to change. This is where strategic thinking, behavior, and discipline become such important elements in identifying a targeted business strategy and achieving success. Strategic thinking helps us to clearly recognize that what got us here won’t get us there. That realization may mean implementing significant change to the way we do business, or it might mean small adjustments in order to achieve the “better”. Strategy allows us to confront business-as-usual ideas and practices. It gives us the authority to change, to adjust in order to achieve better results. In my experience, when people experience that “pinch” or felt need to do something different, they might not know where to go from here. Strategic thinking skills and practices significantly improve their ability to discover the path to the unknown by looking at multiple scenarios, what if’s, and potential improvements to yield future results.
The second lesson I have learned about strategy is related to operations effectiveness. Most organizations consider themselves high performing. They hire, keep, train, and incent their people to perform at a high level each day. These people are naturals at doing their jobs right, solving problems, and effectively accomplishing tasks as they are assigned. Operationally speaking, I seriously doubt they have much room for improvement, but in the area of strategy most of these leaders have a significant opportunity to be more strategic than they are now, to change the game, and to win. I tell people in the Applied Strategic Thinking® workshops that they likely didn’t get to their position by being average. They have the skills, knowledge, and expertise that make them valuable assets to the business. But, to be “better,” a focused effort in strategic thinking is their greatest opportunity for improvement. Strategic thinking increases creativity, idea generation, and stretch goal development. Combined, these make up the roadmap to new opportunities for “better.”
Leaders, teams, and individual contributors may need to de-program themselves for the change needed to achieve success in this new game. Questions that leaders, teams, and individuals alike need to ask themselves are: Can we adapt to the new environment with speed and accuracy? Can we map our journey to achieve the overarching business strategy? What do we need to do differently? What habits and behaviors do we need to unlearn? What habits and behaviors do we need to add now? As change and strategy unfolds, constant evaluation and flexibility is the key to success. Simply put, to achieve the “better” and develop a strong strategy, it is change, the right change based on strategic thinking practices that will lead to success.
For more information about CMOE’s industry-leading strategic thinking programs and tools, check out www.cmoe.com/strategic-thinking.htm . CMOE designs learning experiences that help professionals at any level develop the mindset, the skillset, and the toolset to create the new game, and to play to win every time.