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Forbes: Want Your Leaders To Think More Strategically? Start With These Three Things

CEOs and leadership all strive to be the best — to have a “winning” organization. At the same time, they carry the burden of making things work — the ups and downs and building a strong brand and a strong, supporting culture. And sometimes, they don’t get the desired performance and results.

Most organizations get stuck because they get in their own way. They do the same thing year after year, expecting different results. Dysfunction creeps in and becomes the norm. Strategy gets blurred with business planning and business execution and takes a back seat to the priorities of the day. It gets relegated to an annual event and big production.

As an executive coach, CEOs tell me they get lost in the day-to-day — in the urgent things that pop up every day. They are required to give their attention to industry issues, community issues, customer issues, investor and board issues, and people issues. The urgency of the day-to-day wins most of the time.

Leaders want to think more strategically, but in some ways, they have lost their way with the stress and busyness.

So how do you get your team to think more strategically? Give careful attention to these three things.

Crystalize your definition of strategy.

When was the last time your team defined or redefined the definition of strategy? This step is not about defining your strategy but getting clarity and alignment on what it means.

Organizations get so caught up in identifying goals and objectives that they think these are their strategies. I hear leaders say, “Our strategy is to provide the best customer service,” “Our strategy is to expand into new markets,” or “Our strategy is to grow by 10%.” These are not strategies; these are goals, objectives and tactics. They may be a component of the strategy, but they are not strategy.

Strategy should focus on answering three things: your win, your “where to play and not play,” and your competitive position or advantage.

Most, if not all, organizations have a vision and mission statement, but many of these do not define the win. The vision and mission are just words that have no impact.

Defining the win starts at the corporate level and then moves to the product or service level. It’s very different from putting together well-crafted vision and mission statements. The win establishes the future direction of the organization.

In the words of the great strategic thinker Peter Drucker, “Efforts must be concentrated on the few objectives that can produce significant results and which the business does and is capable of doing well.”

Companies young and old make a big mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Over time, they add more products and services and more customer demographics and geographic locations. A careful analysis of where to play (and where not to play) will help you create an organization that is more efficient, serving your customers at the highest level.

Differentiation truly is the essence of strategy. Many organizations have a strategy of doing the same thing as their competitors but doing it better.

Create a cadence.

According to Harvard Business Review, most of a company’s employees are either unaware of its strategy or don’t understand it. Most leaders also say their company has too many conflicting priorities. Organizations and leaders are not aligned, creating barriers to strategic thinking.

A healthy, organizational communication cadence can lead to improved strategic thinking. Take one of my clients as an example. Realizing their meetings and reporting kept them in the mundane aspects of the business and away from strategic thinking, they redesigned their meeting schedules, agendas and reporting. At the macro level, they mapped out their strategic cadence for the year, quarters, months and weeks. They changed their reporting and measures to think more strategically, focused on the win and their competitive position.

Create a cadence focused on the strategic and then a cadence on organizational performance.

Conquer your issues.

An important step in getting your leaders to think strategically is conquering issues, barriers and limiting beliefs. In working with executive teams, I’ve discovered that issues are layered into the organization, and some of them have existed for years. An executive once told me that “off-limit” things had developed over the years and were entrenched.

The best way to conquer these issues is to start at the departmental level and then move to the product level, the corporate level and the leadership level. Starting from the bottom creates the openness that is needed to bring out all known and unknown issues, and getting the issues conquered is important to getting the organization to think strategically.

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