You don’t have a personal strategy? I think You’re crazy!!!!

Can you explain why your organization has a business plan that describes a strategy? How about a budget? List off all the reasons in your head. We know this stuff:
• Can’t manage what you won’t acknowledge
• Can’t manage what you can’t describe
• Progress has to be envisioned before it can be accomplished
• If you don’t purposefully plan, nothing changes

…the list will go on.

So… do you have a personal business plan? Most people don’t. If you’re serious about your life, you should consider building one. More often than not, people take the path of least resistance in the course of a day, and it doesn’t lead to the things you envision in your head when you think about what you really want. In order to get the most out of your life, you need to act purposefully.

It doesn’t have to be a huge drag to build either. Start with this:

Think about the things that are most important to you. If you could choose, what would your life look like 10 or 20 years from now? Making today’s choices with tomorrow’s vision in mind is what strategy is all about.

This may seem a bit more difficult, but do you have a sense of what your mission on this earth is? For some, this core identity is already apparent. For others, this will take a bit more work. Maybe you’re a teacher. Maybe you are an artist. Maybe you uplift others. Maybe you develop other people and mentor others. It’s good to think about why you’re here.

What do you stand for as a person? What values are at your core, and make up who you are and what you’re all about.

What are the most salient events or factors that are going on in your life right now? What things limit or boulster your opportunities or freedoms?

Desired State:
So what do you want to change, grow, limit, build this next year? What do you want to see be different?

Action Plan:
What are you going to do in order to make that happen? How often? By when? What resources will it take?

If you’re willing to figure out what you want, what it takes to get it, and stay focused on your plan… well, chances are your life will be a heck of a lot more inspiring than if you don’t.

Are you great/terrible at strategy?

You cannot do what you cannot describe. This is the basis for strategy management. Too often, organizations assume that everyone is on the same page rather than taking the time to really carefully define strategy and objectives. The result is too great of a focus on operational priorities, the tail wags the dog.

IF you have a well-built strategy framework, you can rattle this off without a hitch. If you can’t, you have some work to do.

Can you answer these questions confidently?

Are (all) your employees excited by your vision?
What is your value discipline and are your operations actively aligning to it?
Are all of your functional strategies aligned to the value discipline?
How well defined is the customer experience?
Does your whole workforce live and breathe the customer experience?
What customer dis-satisfiers are most salient and is the resolution a focal point in your business plan?
What are all the things that primarily determine the success of your strategy?
Are they the basis for your corporate measurement?
How hard are the targets you set for yourself?
Is your whole company made accountable for the measures they individually contribute to?

Bias anchoring

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the tendency people have to rely far too heavily on a single piece of information offered (“the anchor”) when making subsequent decisions. Everything else is interpreted through this lens, and it colours the decisions you make next. Some of the anchors that get set are fine, they are based in facts that are probably useful given your objectives. However, given than there are potentially other anchors that are based on assumptions that may not be as accurate or may change over time, it’s important to reflect on your own personal bias anchors as you move into making decisions about corporate direction and strategy.

Example: When you are bartering with another individual, the initial price becomes the anchor or starting point. Often times, the offered starting point and the counter result in a splitting of the difference, regardless of whether the initial starting point was relevant.

When a car salesman offers a used car for $20,000, this value becomes the basis for subsequent discussion as anything above $20K seems less reasonable, and anything below seems more.

So what assumptions do you have about your performance that is blinding your from seeing your environment as it may truly be today? Do you have the belief that your organization is pretty amazing in a certain way? Does that cause you to disbelieve what your customers are telling you about dis-satisfiers? Do you think a certain team is less effective than it should be. Does the evidence truly support that? Is there something your organization cannot do because of what happened in the past, is that as true today as it was 10 years ago? How do you know?

A few months back, I heard Dr. Michael Treacy say that in some part of their consulting organization, they refuse to engage people who are older than 30 or who have spent any time working within other organizations. This is the concept he was speaking about. Once these frameworks, beliefs, assumptions and biases are built up in your mind, it takes a very conscious efforts to systematically set them aside as see things as you once did.

If you’re not that young fresh mind, have you considered involving some folks that don’t have 20 years of assumptions built into their thinking to help you see the opportunities in your back yard?

The right strategy, the right execution

In order for your strategy to succeed, you need to be more than a great strategist. That’s only have the battle. The other half is whether you are able to bring that envisioned future to life. The second issue is being able to achieve successful implementation. These two skillsets work hand in hand, but the responsibilities are very different. One without the other always equals failure unless you’re a one man band.

If you’re a great strategist and visionary, you have a role in helping others see, touch and feel that vision. Make it real, help people smell what it’ll be like when you win. But every strategist needs someone who is experienced in translating that vision into tangible outcomes, processes through a consistency that nurtures alignment.

Now you don’t personally need to carry the weight for both of those competencies, as long as someone does. The question is what you’ve got to work with? Are you stronger on one front than the other? Is there a recognition of the need for both?

Options thinking and the fallacious argument of false choices

The future holds possibilities for both you and your organization that you haven’t yet considered. By the very nature of the pace of technological change, the future is inherently unpredictable. Any time you see someone talking like they know what’s going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years in any industry, you can be sure they’re guessing. There are too many factors. Hence, most of our industries need to be focusing on increasing adaptability and to learn how to nimbly respond to changes. The future will no longer be controlled only by entrenched establishments.

Payment technologies are emerging that have the potential to converge big data with international web organizations in ways that could crowd banks out of their bread and butter industry. Not just for the reasons that someone wants in, but that integration is inevitable, and whoever figures it out fastest with the scale to do something about it will win.

In the past 4 months, I have personally crowd-funded 3 exciting products that probably wouldn’t have come to market if not for this clever way of accessing capital. Yeah, whoever came up with that model changed the world a bit. The guys developing the lockitron didn’t have to line up at a bank and beg for mercy. That changed things a bit more.

This is an exciting time to be alive. This is an environment where change presents opportunities and options. And to that point, we need to maintain the ability to be options thinkers.

We often like to simplify our options down to the place where we can easily process it. I can do this or I can do that. It is rarely if ever true that you only have 2 choices. Options thinkers aren’t always black and white, they look for possibilities and alternatives that the average person isn’t prepared to process.

George W. Bush became famous for this when he spoke of the war on terror: “You are either for us or against us.” Was that true in an absolute sense, that there are only two options. This is defined as an argument of false choices. Reject that kind of thinking in your life.

Now sometimes this is used to control perceptions or options in a given situation, but never allow yourself to fall into that same trap when considering the options for your own career or organization. If you can’t see more than a few options, get some fresh minds in the room to help you.

Your potential is incredible. The options are incredible. The challenge is being willing and brave enough to see them and bring them to life.

The bare minimum

Being effective in a competitive strategy means that:
• You are operating in a profitable market space
• You have achieved some measure of competitive advantage
• What you’re doing can’t easily be replicated – there is a measure of sustainability
• And you have a market position that resonates with people

However, even though you dominate on a single value attribute, you will always have to maintain a minimum acceptable level of performance in the other two.

Being the cheapest still requires some level of quality and customer attention.
The highest quality still has a maximum price the market will bear and a minimum amount of customer attention/flexibility/customization.
And customer intimacy still requires a reasonable corresponding price and level of innovation consistent with what is bring purchased.

Dominate in one, but ensure that the level of your performance in the other two areas are not forgotten. There will always be a bare minimum in all three dimensions of your unique selling proposition.

Don’t stop until it looks easy

Strengthening the performance of your organization by resolving internal challenges can be a very complex business. It requires a measure of bravery. This follows a fundamental tenet I follow that difficult decisions are the product of insufficient context. When decision making is tough, frustrating or confusing, it probably means that you have some challenging work to do on the contextual level above… the kind of work that a lot of people avoid.

If making a pricing decision is unclear, look up… perhaps your organization is lacking clarity on the corporate marketing strategy. If it’s unclear what consulting gigs you should pursue, it means that something is missing above also, and on and on. Frustration in decision making is a key indicator that something is missing. As a strategy practitioner, this is the world you need to live in.

Once you identify a gap, dive headfirst into it. Resolving these kinds of challenges can be extremely complex at first, until you fully understand the situation you are in and the potential solutions. It can be frustrating. People avoid this kind of work because there’s risk to leading it, and there is usually apprehension around the possibility of not being able to figure it out. But this is what holds organizations back, the seemingly invisible roadblocks of progress.

The solution won’t seem obvious until you’ve done most of the work. But there’s a point beyond the complexity where it gets much simpler. You’ll be able to explain it more easily. The visuals you build will be smaller. Go with it, and accept that the people that only see the end result will never understand the amount of work that went into making it simple. Leave all the complexity behind and make it easy for people to grasp.

Brave leaders and cognitive athletes have been doing this for centuries. This isn’t the work of average people, welcome to the resistance. I salute those people that are willing to sort these kinds of challenges out because it’s the right thing to do.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.-Leonardo Da Vinci

If you’re not using it, it’s not helping you

One of the most common and overlooked failures of strategy management is building statements that should have meaning, but don’t. This is the main reason why I’m less concerned with whether an organization has ALL of the statements they “should” have written, and I’m more concerned with how useful they are. You’re better off to have a fewer, more meaningful statements that are actually referenced in meetings than a bunch of platitudes that no one cares about in a practical sense.

That becomes the critical issue: How much of your strategy framework is referenced in discussions? If they aren’t, what gets used as context instead? If those two things are separate, it’s time to consider writing more relevant and possibly fewer statements, because if you’re not using them, they’re not helping you.

Reflex resistance

The most foundational question regarding progress is this:

“If you are presented with information that suggests you’re doing something that will result in outcomes below/outside your stated long-term objectives… will you change?”

Surprisingly, we (both organizations and people) choose “no” more often than you would think. Every time this happens in your organization or your personal life, you move further away from your goals.

Let’s think of some practical examples:
• Your customers express frustration with something, but it means that a project no one wants to lead will be required
• You learn that something you enjoy eating has qualities that defy your health objectives
• You discover that someone you’re dating is below your stated standards

So why are we talking about this? You’ll see this dynamic of change resistance regularly in your career as a strategy manager, because your job is to chaperone change within your organization. You will play an important role in helping bring people along so they can engage more deeply. You may even be the most likely to notice these kinds of reactions in those around you because you don’t own the operations the same way other managers do.

Keep an eye out for reflex resistance to strategic change. It usually presents itself as disagreement without real cause. Secondly, look for avoidance in terms of alignment quality. Work with people who don’t easily function at a strategic level, but who are willing to engage and learn.

Why do people avoid change, and cling to behaviours that don’t move you in the direction of your stated objectives?
• Your affinity for the specific type of gratification (but I like it)
• The habit of avoiding effort (maybe it’ll go away)
• The anticipated negative effect of inaction (is it a big deal really?)
• Potential benefit of action (is it worth the effort?)
• Engagement in the objective (do I care enough about the vision?)

The solution is to bring about a conversation that turns the decision from being a reflex reaction into a conversation and thought process that involves new/more information and different perspectives.

Be purposeful in your actions today, and align them with the outcomes you want tomorrow. That’s the most direct path to success.

Drowning in strategy methodologies

There are lots of daunting things about wading through the strategy tools and methodologies available to you. Every good conference you go to will introduce something new. It may make you wonder if you’re missing something important in what you’re doing because this is one of the least standardized fields around. So what should you focus on as you consider your options?

Don’t get lost in the detail. There is a ton of overlap in what is available to you, and not every tool will work in any given situation. Blue ocean strategy development may fit a moment in time for you, such as when jumping S Curves, but something more conventional may fit the bill at another time. Intuition plays more of a role in strategy development and management than you may have previously imagined. After all, any truly big strategy is simply a product of leadership imagination, based in a grounded sense of potential.

Do what you intuitively believe fits the moment and situation for your organization. Look for processes that are developed by those who you consider the best in the industry (like Palladium Group). Recognize that a sound strategy framework involves a lot of pieces, and has to be built one at a time. Once you close a gap, you’re never done. Keep closing the gaps as you go. Recognize management frustration as a sign that you have more work to do.

The exciting part about this job is how dynamic it is, and the amount of creativity you get to exercise.

Introduce new tools to close gaps in what you’re trying to accomplish and never introduce a process that isn’t solving a problem the organization has.

Have you covered the basics in incredible detail and clarity?
• what are you working to achieve?
• who are you working to achieve that with, and to what extent?
• what are the component parts that contribute to that achievement, and what are the interdependencies?
• what is unique about your organization’s strategy that will result in competitive advantage?
• how does every person contribute?
• how will everyone be held accountable for results?