Setting strategy isn’t the same as leading strategy. Even the best strategist can falter when it comes to implementing and sustaining the right direction for the business.
In fact, statistics indicate that only from 4 to 7 percent of leaders exhibit strategic skills, a woefully inadequate amount given the demands of organizations in today’s environment, notes Kate Beatty, coauthor of Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success.
“Leaders today face tremendous pressure to make short-term numbers and show immediate wins,” Beatty says. “Operational leadership rules the day.”
But the pressure to meet short-term targets and solve functional problems is creating a leadership pipeline with limited strategic leadership capacity.
So, how do we lead in ways that position the business for the future while also meeting current demands? It requires developing the following three skills, according to Beatty.
Strategic thinking is grounded in a strong understanding of the complex relationship between the organization and its environment. Strategic thinkers take a broad view; ask probing questions; and identify connections, patterns and key issues. To boost the level of strategic thinking as you or your team work on a challenge, pose these questions:
- Why do we need to be successful in this challenge?
- How does this issue (and our approach) relate to issues and challenges elsewhere in the organization?
- Who are the key stakeholders? What information and insight do they have that is relevant to the challenge and to our response?
- In what ways are my own experiences and biases limiting my view of the situation?
- How can I reframe my challenge and see it from different angles?
- What factor, if acted on, would create the greatest leverage on the result?
Strategic acting. A strategic plan is only a plan — an organization’s actual strategies lie in the decisions and choices that people make. Questions to help you and your team evaluate the strategic consistency of your actions include:
- Is my response consistent with the overall direction of the organization?
- What, if anything, is keeping me from settling on a solution or approach?
- What are the risks of this solution? What contingency plans can I put in place?
- What are the most critical priority areas for us to focus on? Am I sending any mixed signals about those priorities?
Strategic influencing is about building commitment to the organization’s strategic direction by inviting others into the strategic process, forging relationships inside and outside the organization and navigating the political landscape. To apply strategic influencing skills to a challenge, ask yourself:
- What will the result look like if I succeed? What is my vision?
- Who else needs to be on board to make this successful? How does this approach relate to their goals?
- Are there other organizational systems, processes or structures that need to be in alignment for us to succeed? How can I help create that alignment?
- How willing am I to let my vision be shaped by others’ visions?
- Who might help me champion my efforts? How can I get them on board?
- What political realities might impact our success? How might I navigate those realities?
Finally, the “job of strategy” is not limited to a few top executives. Strategic leaders are needed throughout our organizations if they are to adapt, innovate and succeed well into the future.
Strategy = Learning
Setting strategy is not an event followed by implementation. It is a learning process that includes five elements:
- Assess where you are. What’s the competitive climate facing your organization? Are you clear-eyed about your internal situation? Do you regularly and realistically assess your organizational strengths and weaknesses?
- Know who you are and where you want to go. Strategic leaders need to understand the spoken and unspoken culture of the organization and its leadership. Imagine the company 10 or 20 years into the future — then look at the distance and direction you must travel to succeed.
- Learn how to get there. Business strategy should be based on an understanding of key strategic drivers: the relatively few but critical determinants of long-term success. It’s also important to develop a leadership strategy for addressing the human and organizational capabilities that are needed to make the business strategy work.
- Make the journey. How does strategy translate into action? What are the tactics needed to implement strategy? How does strategy seep into the lifeblood of the organization? Are decisions and behaviors throughout the organization consistent with the strategy?
- Check your progress. Continue to assess your organization’s effectiveness. Do your key metrics keep your organization focused on the two or three top priorities for strategic success? Are adequate investments being made now to ensure your organization’s sustainable competitive advantage in the future?