Strategy is a Conversation, Not a Deliverable

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Strategy is a Conversation, Not a Deliverable was originally featured in Forbes.

“Developing a strategy” is fun, but it is also complicated and difficult. In truth, most of us would prefer not to have to think about strategy once a day. It would be better to do it once a year, come up with a plan and get back to the business of business.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works, because strategy is not a one-time deliverable.

While many companies create strategic plans once every five years, to be truly effective in their execution, strategy must be an ongoing conversation. Where companies fall short is in viewing it as a process that has a beginning and an end. Once they have created a strategy, they want to go and execute it. The challenge is that in a fluid and ever-changing business landscape, scenarios and dynamics are evolving, and so strategy must continue to evolve.

To make sure that everyone in your company is involved in the conversation and actively taking part in supporting it, consider these tips:

1. Leverage the power of “why” and don’t over-rotate on “what” and “how”

Most people live out of a fallacy that a clear path leads to inspired actions, when in reality, it’s more accurate to say that inspired actions leads to a clear path. When people are deeply grounded in the “why” of the company as well as their own “why,” they will bring creativity, passion and intelligence—and the “what” and “how” will get figured out. The key is having a strong “why” to start with.

2. Engage people early

Many companies make the mistake of setting unrealistic targets and expecting their employees to deliver with little to no involvement in the plans for doing so. While having a long-range, wildly optimistic vision is inspiring, it can also be daunting and crippling to people who can’t see a credible way to get there.

Massive change is not an overnight thing; it takes time, dedication, ongoing dialogue and, frankly, baby steps. Setting short-term goals and engaging your people in their creation not only makes the entire process seem more doable but allows for more flexibility in reacting to changing market conditions and keeping the process more fluid. When people feel engaged and can see how they personally and explicitly fit into the strategy, they are more invested in the outcome. On that note …

3. Encourage everyone to be a strategist

This does not mean that everyone creates a strategic plan, but rather that everyone in your organization is interested in the customer landscape, competitive landscape, and issues facing your industry. Regardless of their role, they should all see themselves as passionate hobbyists who study the business. If you are open to feedback and empower everyone in the organization to make a meaningful impact, there is no limit to what your organization can do. When people are inspired by something that they feel connected to and personally enrolled in, the chance of success is exponentially higher.

4. Adjust your own way of being

Everyone wants change, but no one wants to do anything different. The main reason strategies fail is that leaders behave inconsistently with their strategic choices, often applying previous behaviors to new strategies. This is a doomed approach. As a leader, it is your job to demonstrate the behaviors you want your employees to follow. “Because I said so,” while often effective in parenting, is rarely successful in business. Looking within, showing vulnerability, and being willing to change are not leadership weaknesses. On the contrary, they model for employees how to become more clear, conscious and authentic.

Doing all of the above will help you create an environment in which strategy is an ongoing dialogue. It will be a reference point in every meeting, and people will begin talking about it as something they understand and are connected to. An effective strategy requires continual questioning, observing, challenging, formulating, adjusting and implementing. And then doing it all again. Done right, “strategy” can be the most important conversation in your organization.

Ready to deliver on your strategy and produce real results? It all starts with a conversation. 

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