One persistent myth about the strategic thinking process: it is long and cumbersome. Even if that were true in the past, it’s not so now. More importantly, it should not be! Strategic thinking is not “protracted thinking”—the kind that eventually coughs up a 500-page, door-stop-style plan that is shelved upon completion. If learned correctly, strategic thinking helps to create plans that are living documents—guiding decision-making on a daily basis. Strategic thinking becomes real, actionable, and accessible. Done collectively it is the kind of thinking that quickly galvanizes individuals, companies, and other organizations to produce positive results. Try it—answer these questions for yourself or your team—see what happens!
Although I have an office in town, I often intentionally don’t go directly to “work” every day. I have developed a practice of occasionally finding a place to have a coffee and that allows me to do some reading, reflecting, and writing. Today is one of those days. I pulled into the local Starbucks, ordered a coffee, and found a quiet place in the corner to read a new book.
A few weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with Joseph Jaworski, one of the world’s best authorities on leadership. Jaworski has dedicated his life to building the capability of leaders for the betterment of organizations, as well as society in general. While we discussed a variety of topics, it is his work on innovation that interested me most. I told Joseph that I had ordered his book, Source: The Inner Path of Knowledge Creation, and was really looking forward to diving into it. The book is his story of experiences with scientists, physicists, artists, entrepreneurs, and spiritual leaders on finding their sources for creativity and purpose.
This morning, this was the book I was reading. In the chapter, “The release of limited belief systems” – something really jumped out at me:
“Over the years, my worldview has shifted. I had released my limiting belief systems, which has been inculcated in me over a lifetime, and discovered that a profound shift had occurred in my metaphysics – my philosophy of being and knowing.”
He goes on to write, “…many leaders operate under obsolete assumptions and inner mental models of which they may no longer be aware. These limiting belief systems inhibits leaders at all levels from pursuing and discovering novel opportunities. The result is repeated strategic failure even in enterprises that are exceedingly run well.”
Since we founded our company 10 years ago, the world has changed in ways that are breathtaking. Throughout this period, I have seen and have experienced people doing remarkable things in their organizations. We have worked with thousands of people at all levels in over 50 different organizations. They have taught me to challenge my own assumptions about how great companies work—people who think about possibilities: big not small thinkers—making a difference in the place they work and for the customers they serve. Because of this we have been able to pivot, grow, and innovate to better deliver the value clients deserve.
When I limit my belief system and don’t pursue new and different ways of being, my world gets much smaller—and less personal and professional growth occurs. This happens when I fall into that trap of over activity that we all often find ourselves in. We need to be reminded to step back and see how we are growing and learning. I suggest selecting a special space where you can stretch your own thinking. Ask yourself, “How have my views have changed over time? Who influenced me in a positive way? How did they help my world get bigger? Where can I focus my attention to help me learn and expand my own world view?” And finally, “How can I use what I have learned to make a difference in the world?”
A Channel to Innovation
A few years back I was called in to work with a new Product Development team that had been experiencing several setbacks and delays. The cause being new technology; an important part of the firm’s overall growth strategy. It was designed to fill a gap that existed in the new product pipeline. I spent a few days with the marketing executive who was leading the team. He suggested that I spend some time with individual team members before meeting with the collective team. After initial conversations, I called the leader and said, “This team has a group of experts who do all of the things a high-performing team can or should do, except knowing how to think collectively and dialogue appropriately in a way that provides true breakthrough.”
We agreed as a team that an intervention—a new approach—was needed as they couldn’t get to a new product launch—literally stuck on a situation for over 6 months, and the organization was bleeding dollars.
In one of the most inspiring leadership books, Synchronicity: The Inner Path to Leadership, renowned author, Joseph Jaworski, writes ….
“If people were to think together in a coherent way, it would have tremendous power. If there was an opportunity for sustained dialogue over a period of time, we would have a coherent movement of thought, not only at the conscious level we all recognize, but even more importantly at the tacit unspoken level which cannot be described. Dialogue does not require people to agree with each other, instead it encourages people to participant in a pool of shared meaning that leads to aligned action.”
One of our (GlobalEdg’s) core principles of Strategic Thinking is creating/developing the ability to openly dialogue and challenge underlying assumptions. And, being able to do this in a way that allows people to be heard and empowered to find solutions. Learning to effectively Challenge Assumptions is defined in Think to Win: Unleashing the Power of Strategic Thinking by Butler, Manfredi, Klein. An excerpt from the book:
“Having an open mind is a necessity. It starts with an exploration of what you might be taking for granted. Peel away any built-up layers of assumptions by asking how they came to be accepted, and envisioning what would happen if they were not.
Begin by asking the “What If” and “Why” questions:
- Why did we see the need for this decision in the past?
- What if we do things differently?
- What if our biggest competitor were in this room; what would he or she say about us?
- What if we re-imagine things radically? What if we create a new market segment?
- What if I owned this business? What would I do differently?”
By applying the Think to Win strategies, the team began to master the ability to dialogue more effectively, they learned to collectively think and produce results. This allowed for accountability and cross-functional collaboration in a different, more authentic way. The results—the team accelerated its work and delivered the new product to market ahead of schedule. That product is still in the market today and doing well. Just as important, the organization gained and replicated this capability with future product launch teams.
It is hard to believe that I once bought into the theory that we hire people for what they can contribute to the organization, and then we build their initial development plans looking not only at strengths, but shortly thereafter begin to focus on weaknesses or areas of opportunity for growth. Like we can change them before the year has even passed? The danger lies in thinking that we want to.
We all have strengths. They are what we strive to bring forward in ourselves. We want to be successful and add value. As Markus Buckingham, noted author and expert on “Strengths” indicates, “—your particular combination of strengths—is deeply a part of who you are.”
We have a great model of this in our recent Olympic history. Michael Phelps, who ended his record-breaking careerwith 23 gold medals, is an example of the power of focus on strength. Easy? No. Over the years Phelps has struggled both in and out of the pool. Finding his resolve, he was always able to return to what he does best…swim. To train, to improve, to grow stronger in what he excels at. Not switch sports, no change of direction or retooling of what was already strong within him. As a team member, Phelps brings this talent and winning strategy to the medley relay events. He is a powerful part of a powerful team; each having honed strengths…for one it is the butterfly, for another it is the backstroke. None would be expected to swim the part that was not their strongest.
As a leader, how can you get started leveraging your team’s strengths? First of all, you need to change your mindset. Focus onwhat potential or existing members can bring to the game (business, operations, etc.). Then try the following:
- Go back to your own assessments. You have probably taken many instruments that measure preferences, style, and competence assessments. Now, focus solely on what you did well. Then ask yourself how much that helped serve you.
- Think about the BEST team you were ever part of:
- How did you uniquely contribute?
- How did others uniquely contribute, in the ways you could not?
- Seeing the unique capabilities in others helps identify how to leverage those talents to benefit the whole team. If you don’t do this, as a leader of a team, you will tend to dominate with your strengths. That might be helpful in many situations, but certainly not all.
How can you make a difference in where you play and how you win? “As Buckingham says, “your Strengths can be put to good use, or they can be put to bad use.”
The choice is yours.
Successful people know and communicate the “WHY” of their work…we all should
My lifelong dreamwas to run a successful business that I could be proud of. When I started GlobalEdg in 2006, I felt it was important to clearly communicate what our firm did. We were an unknown startup; it was important for potential clients to understand our capabilities. We invested time and money in our website, created a product and service brochure, drafted presentations, designed flyers and much more—whatever we felt would help. It was what was needed at the time and it served us well. I became pretty good at answering the question, “What does your firm do?” I still believe that it is important to concisely describe what you do and how you are different from your competitors.
Over the years we have continued to grow our capabilities; we have had the privilege to work with some of the best organizations in the world. Today, almost all of our new business comes from referrals. For any consulting firm that is where you want to be. Today we now feel a responsibility to articulate who we are and what we do in a more complete way.
Each year we conduct a strategic review of our business. This being our 10th year we thought it was especially important to update our messaging on “what we do.” During a planning session, we found ourselves having an important conversation about what we “really” do and “what we are known for.” Yet it was different this time, the discussions shifted in a way that we found very powerful and extremely rewarding. A significant amount of time was invested into answering the “why.” In other words, why was our work important? How were we making a difference with the work we were doing? Why was it important work?
We know that our work is meaningful—we do make a difference in how leaders run their organizations. We knew how to articulate the “what we do”—but we finished with defining why our work makes a difference. GlobalEdg is an organization that I am proud of—I am living the dream.
Dig deep…ask and answer why your work is important!
For more information, visit our website, www.globaledg.com
For more than 25 years I have been working with leaders—observing and studying what makes the successful ones different from the ones who fail. One area that I have confidence in really differentiating success is the ability to AUTOMATICALLY think strategically. To quickly take in, process, and act on what is most important.
We all have information coming at us from innumerable directions. Decisions must be made quickly, yet no less carefully than they have in the past. How is this achievable? Structure. Our STAR Model (Strategic Thinking Action Results™) is a disciplined way to think. It allows leaders to quickly screen and then focus on what is most important. It is structure. It creates the freedom to know your decisions are made with confidence. STAR is a tried and true method. In fact, our research has shown that employees self-report a 99 percent increase in their ability to focus on the vital few and being able to streamline from many to a few key issues after the appropriate training.
You may not always bat a thousand in your decision making—no one does—yet our experience leads us to believe that you can better your chances when you follow a structured, proven approach. Ask yourself:
- What am I trying to solve for?
- What do I know to be true—the facts only.
- What can I conclude that is obvious?
- What are my best options?
- What is my decision?
Once made, declare your decision—in writing if possible. Doing so makes it obvious to others. There is nothing worse than making an important decision and no one knowing about it.
For more information, visit our website, www.globaledg.com
I was struck by an article in a recent issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. It was about George Martin, the legendary producer of the Beatles. What really registered with me was how he was able to uniquely harness the collective talent of four individuals to co-create music that would change the world. Martin was able to see potential in a way others couldn’t. He specifically ……
- Challenged them by suggesting the possibility
- Held to his standard of excellence
- Tapped into available talent to get the right person at the right time (Ringo replacing Peter Beck)
- Identified how to maximize individual talent while simultaneously creating the space for others to contribute.
George Martin just passed away at age 90 — but his talent development legacy lines on. Enjoy the read!
Earlier in my career, I was going through a really stressful time, my position was being eliminated, I was finishing graduate school; and, as young father with 3 small kids, my primary concern was how to stay positive and not become overwhelmed. That was when I was introduced to Martin Seligman’s work at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a pioneer in the field of positive psychology. What I learned was that the way you think can make a difference in how you feel which ultimately leads to how you make decisions. All leaders will face adversity – what is most important is how he or she reacts. It begins with how you think. We have worked hard over the years to emphasize how best to channel ideas into insights to solve problems. Our work has been informed by people who have overcome difficult challenges. I find the subject of how thoughts impact us fascinating. I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal that might be helpful on how you think. Enjoy
Talent Development Leaders — If you can’t clearly answer this question — then it is time to act.
Recently I was having a conversation around the table with a client and his managers. The discussion focused on how the Talent Development function was supporting the business. As is so often the case, the conversation centered around talent development pipelines and processes such as performance management alignment.
I listened quietly and then asked if we could shift the conversation a little — I wanted to ask a different question before we moved on…
“What do you believe makes your organization unique and gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace?”
I can usually predict what the answer will be – and it happened again here… Each person had a different answer!
This is an easy question to ask – but so difficult for many managers to answer. Try it! How would you answer it for your organization?
Well, during our discussion… the most senior executive on the T&D team’s response was “Our ability to take risks.” My follow-up question was “What does that mean?” My second question was “… And what makes you different from your largest competitor –are they not risk takers?”
Another executive jumped in and said, “I think there’s a different answer to that question. I think capability in research and development sets us apart from the competition.”
The conversation then led to how to define and then to leverage their competitive advantage.
Why is this important? — if you are not building organizational capability with this question in mind, it’s time to start! Not being able to define – and act on your competitive advantage – is a serious risk to your business. At best it is losing you money – at worst it may cost you your business!
In fairness to the Talent Development function – this problem is just as common across all functions and pretty universal across businesses.
In other words, once you clearly describe your competitive advantage you can tailor functions such as capability development and recruitment and selection to finding and developing employees to drive the business forward to take advantage of the opportunities your advantage provides.
Just try searching on Google — what you will find is that there are 50 million hits when searching for Strategic Competitive Advantage –so widely in the consciousness of organizations – YET our research shows …. only 44% strongly agree that they can describe what makes their organization different from the competition, AND 20% strongly agree that their organization’s current strategies give them an advantage over the competition.
Why is that? People are not asking the right questions and don’t have an approach that will get them to universally identify and leverage what makes them unique.
When you are in a position to address this issue… Try jumpstarting the conversation by asking leaders in your organization the following questions:
- What must we do, know, or produce that no one else can? This is truly hard questions to answer. –the key –be honest – what is the evidence that you alone can do this? How do you know?
- What do we want to be best in the “world” at? However, you define your “world” –is an important context for this conversation. Is your world truly global? Or is it the world in which you currently operate in – or perhaps the world you would like to move into.
- What is the single best reason for our success? This allows you to focus — is it a single thing like a patent on a new product or a unique approach to something that cannot be easily replicated?
- Is our advantage anything that a competitor could say about their organization? This is the true “smell” test. Again, be honest with yourself. If this is not the case – you have a competitive advantage –if not, maybe now is the time to secure one.
Only when your organization is clear on these important questions can you reshape your Talent Management Strategy to take full advantage of the opportunities your competitive advantage provides.
For more visit: www.thinktowin.net
Whoever takes the White House is going to face a country in transition. Here’s what the experts want POTUS to know on Day 1.
Shift the Tone – Our country needs leadership – and it needs to come from the top on day one. You need to shift the way people think about how Washington works. It is not all about “executive orders” or what you are going to “tear up.” It is about changing the America Psyche. Set a new tone with the American people —- let them know that there “is” a solution to every problem … and the best way to solve them is collectively with those who have strong differences. It is about relationships and not just rules. Think about the relationship that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill had. There was a mutual respect and they genuinely liked each other. Reagan and O’Neal were able to find common ground even though they philosophically were polar opposites. Many credit them with saving Social Security. As the President, your words and actions mean much more than they did after the November Election. During your first official day in office, bring the leaders from both parties together and announce that you will be hosting a Camp David Summit. Why Camp David? For decades it has been a place to bring world leaders together to build broken relationship and address the most important problems. Couldn’t leaders from both our parties use that? With the desire to change the tone, I would suggest a theme – How Good Can America Be? The purpose would be to outline an agenda and jump-start an important Leadership conversation around clearly identifying what has given the U.S. a competitive advantage in the world; and, more importantly how we sustain that for the years to come. Not only would this be symbolic, it would show leadership and action.
Paul V. Butler President, GlobalEdg and Co-Author of Think-to-WinUnleashing the Power of Strategic Thinking